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DAWN - Features; August 26, 2008

August 26, 2008


A Japanese scholar of Urdu

By Rauf Parekh

“She was a very beautiful girl. Everyday from the same station, she would ride the same train as the one I used to take to reach the university. I liked her very much but did not dare talk to her ; I felt as if I was a dumb man before her, never able to speak even a single word and all I could say was through my eyes,” Prof Hiroji Kataoka, a Japanese scholar of Urdu visiting Karachi, was narrating blushingly some interesting events of his life in reply to my question that how he became interested in Urdu.

“I had taken admission to Tokyo University of Foreign Studies to study Urdu but, frankly speaking, it did not interest me much and I even once failed to qualify for the next class, that was my second semester,” said Prof Kataoka, ostensibly combing his grey hair with his fingers but actually trying to recall the events that took place some 38 years back. “Once, lost in my thoughts about the girl, I entered the class. I was a little late and Professor Suzuki Takishi, also known as Japan’s Baba-i-Urdu, was taking class.” Here Prof Kataoka elaborated how hard Prof Suzuki Takishi worked to popularise Urdu in Japan and how he compiled a Japanese-Urdu dictionary and how he worked till his last on another dictionary, a gigantic one, but could not finish it, though he had almost reached the final stages of its compilation.

Picking up the thread again, Prof Kataoka said, “That day Prof Takishi was teaching a short story Sufaid Phool, written by Krishan Chandre. The story had striking similarities with mine. It was about a young man who had fallen in love with a girl but since he was dumb, he could never say a single word to express his sentiments before the girl and all he could say was through his eyes and gestures. The class ended but the story had not finished. Out of curiosity, I got hold of a dictionary and with its help read the entire story before the rest of the class did as I just could not wait for the next session. The story had a tragic end but it enabled me to see how Urdu literature related to me and that it did have a universal appeal”. He stopped to look at me and added candidly, laughing all along, “From then on, I became deeply involved in my studies and a student who once failed to clear the exams became a teacher of Urdu at the same university.”

Born in Saitama district of Tokyo in 1941, Prof Kataoka is a frequent visitor to Pakistan and the land and the people do not seem stranger to him. In fact he had stayed in Karachi for his two-year diploma in Urdu from the University of Karachi in the early seventies. Having done his Master’s in Urdu from Tokyo, Prof Hiroji Kataoka joined Osaka University in 1974 and taught Urdu language and literature there before joining Daito Bunka University’s faculty of international relations in 1986, a prestigious institution where he is serving now as the head of the Urdu department. Here students opting for South Asian studies must learn either Urdu or Hindi and learning the language includes visiting the country where the language is spoken. With groups of such students, Prof Kataoka has visited Pakistan seven times, taking the students to the universities of Karachi and Punjab and other places of academic or historical interest, exposing them to have first-hand experience and inculcating in them the understanding of Pakistani culture and languages.

“During one such visit, I took the students to the historical Rohtas Fort,” he says, recollecting some fond memories of study tours to Pakistan. “One of the students asked me to have his photograph taken against the backdrop of the fort and the beautiful scenery. I took the picture and taking the camera back from me the student said: ‘Sir, I cannot speak Urdu well. Neither am I a good student, but one day I will show this photograph of mine to my children and they would say, Wow ! Daddy went to Pakistan, so shall we do one day,’ and I said to myself: ‘These are the saplings that I am planting and one day they will turn into fully grown shady trees’. Such feelings make my soul swing.”

But this time around he had a stopover in Karachi on his way to India where he is going to address a number of research seminars. Taking advantage of his stay in Karachi, he is conducting some interviews for a survey which is a part of a huge research project that deals with migration and problems of émigrés.

During his long love affair with Urdu, spread over 40 years, including 34 years of teaching and research, he became increasingly engaged with Urdu. As he is a humble soul and tends to underrate his achievements, one should not take his words about his own works on face value: Prof Kataoka has translated ‘Dewan-i-Ghalib’, Iqbal’s ‘Baang-i-Dara’ and Faiz’s almost entire poetry into Japanese in addition to over 60 research papers on the Urdu language, Urdu literature and Pakistani culture.

Talking about the activities organised by the students of Urdu at Daito Bunka University’s faculty of international relations, he said: “The students organise an Urdu mushaira every year. Ten years ago I floated the idea and since then the annual mushaira has become a tradition. The function is attended by a large number of Pakistanis, too, and people come to Tokyo from places as far as Osaka. It is a great morale booster for our students. Such gatherings are a replica of Pakistani mushairas, with traditional ‘wah wah’, and give a wonderful opportunity to our students to develop a penchant for Urdu and Pakistani culture.

“The teaching of Urdu in Japan began with the establishment of Tokyo School of Foreign Studies, in 1908,” Prof Kataoka told me when I showed interest in the history of teaching of Urdu in Japan. “In the beginning it was named ‘the department of Hindustani language’ as the name was in vogue for Urdu in those days. In 1949, the School was upgraded to the status of a university and the department was bifurcated into Urdu and Hindi.

“The interesting thing is that,” he said. “Urdu was introduced to Japan in 1663 when a ship came to Nagasaki from Vietnam. The captain of that ship was a ‘Moor’, or Muslim. Prof Nagashima has discovered a polyglot of five languages compiled in Nagasaki in the year 1796. The polyglot gives the synonyms of a ‘Moorish’ language with Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Portuguese. That ‘Moorish’ language is in fact Persian. As many Persian words are included in Urdu, this polyglot becomes the first and oldest reference of Urdu in Japan, though it is difficult to say precisely when Urdu had its first contact with Japan,” says the learned man.

“How do you feel about Urdu and Pakistan after all these long years?” I asked. “During the last 40 years, I have never been detached from Urdu even for a single day. The fact is that Urdu has become a part of my personality. Now it is in my blood with all its tastes and flavours. That’s the reason I am very happy when I hear good news from Pakistan, and if it is bad, I am saddened,” he continues with a faraway look in his eyes, “I am a Japanese but I feel that somehow I have not remained Japanese completely. My soul is in Japan and my heart is in Pakistan. What shall I do now when, in the words of Ibn-i-Insha, Ab umr ki naqdi khatm hui? There is only one reply that comes from my heart: Urdu, Urdu aur bas Urdu”.

The man who delivered the MQM

By M. Ziauddin

Dr Aasim Hussain, the man who played a crucial behind-the-scene role in getting the MQM to agree to abstain from voting one way or the other on the resolution passed unanimously by the Sindh assembly to impeach former president Musharraf, does not seem to believe in drowning his intelligence in verbiage. Ask him a question, he answers with a question or lets his face or eyes do the job. If at all he wants to articulate his opinion he camouflages it in a brainteaser.

I spent a couple of hours with him on two occasions while he was here last week on another one of his ostensibly MQM-related assignments. And it was a rare experience for me. At times I felt as if he was trying to be clever by half or playing the game of one-upmanship. Too confident for his boots. But the next minute he would be talking the sanest of sense, taking you hand-in-hand down his lane of logic.

An orthopaedic surgeon by profession, Dr Hussain manages a hospital chain in Karachi named after his maternal grandfather Dr Ziauddin Ahmed of Aligarh fame. His MQM connections seem shrouded in obscurity. But to me he appeared more a friend of Altaf Hussain than an MQM sympathiser. Same age-group. It could be a patient-doctor relationship as well.

There is, however, no ambiguity about his relationship with Asif Zardari. College connection. One of Asif’s cronies? A hanger on? Could be. But Doctor Bonesetter gives the impression of being his own man while at the same time enjoying the fullest trust of both Asif and Altaf.

At one point during the mental sparing that the two of us had got engaged into on the two occasions that I met the new NRB chief, my mind went racing back to one of the resolutions that the All Parties’ Conference (APC) held in London in July 2007 had passed. It was not completely clear if Dr Hussain had anything to do with the dissenting note that the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had added to this particular resolution which had said that none of the participating parties would ever be part of any government in which the MQM would be a coalition partner. But what is clear is that the MQM has entered into a package deal with the PPP under which it is also obliged to deliver its Senate votes for the proposed constitutional amendments and support Zardari’s candidature for presidency as well. When asked for confirmation, Dr Hussain responded with meaningful silence.

When asked if there was any trade-off in the package deal that he has cut with the MQM, he tested my gullibility by denying that there was any deal or any trade-off but gave me to understand that the Muttahida was not very happy with Musharraf because, as he said, the former president had blocked the MQM’s efforts to become a mainstream national party. I interpreted this to mean that the Muttahida, wishing to expand further the significant political space it had already gained in the last five years, had switched over to the right side of the new ruling party at the right time. Nevertheless, Muttahida certainly seems to have extracted a promise of ‘safe passage’ for its former backer in return.

From Dr Hussain’s innuendos I gathered that he was in London to get the MQM to propose Zardari’s candidature for the presidency (which Muttahida did readily) in return for invitation to join the coalition at the centre (and this was also duly announced in principle the day Dr Hussain returned to Pakistan).

Here is where the London APC resolution pertaining to the MQM comes in the way for the PML-N to continue in the coalition in case the Muttahida joined it. And that partly explains why the PML-N has found it difficult to continue with the coalition at the centre.

From the way Dr Hussain argued the case in favour of Asif becoming the president it appeared that after having had the harrowing experience of electing to the 58(2)b-armed presidency the so-called non-political Ghulam Ishaq Khan and then the seemingly safest party man, Farooq Leghari, who was also a very close confidant of the late chairperson, the PPP is too scared to trust any person other than the party chief himself with the office of the president which now has the 17th amendment powers as well to boot.

Dr Hussain would not say it in so many words but appeared to be at pains to make me believe that the army also was not in favour at the moment to see in the presidency any person other than the man who ostensibly has the most to lose if the country does not revert back to genuine parliamentary democracy. He also hinted in his characteristic roundabout way that the army believed that with so much power and so many important appointments including that of the army chief in his hand, any person without vested interests in returning to the original 1973 constitution could play havoc with the transition phase.Under the Charter of Democracy signed by the top leadership of the PPP and PML-N all the amendments introduced by General Zia and General Musharraf are to be removed to restore the 1973 Constitution in its original form and this, Dr Hussain insisted, could not be achieved without the MQM’s Senate votes.

And he appeared convinced that without the MQM on its side the ruling coalition could neither get a resolution passed in the National Assembly without a single dissenting voice (a necessary condition to prevent the restored judiciary becoming politically controversial) calling for the restoration of the judiciary through an executive order.

Would not the party suffer if the co-chairman were to take up the additional responsibility of the all-powerful presidency? I asked. “No,” was too short an answer for me to be convinced.

Are all these seemingly devious political manoeuvrings for restoring a balance in the powers of parliament and the president or for getting Zardari into a position to rule like Musharraf did? I asked. He responded with a riddle: You can find an answer to that question in the reality of Pakistan’s current political power play.